Powerful Poetry That Will Connect Your Students

Click the photo to read the full poem! Background artwork by Davia King.

In some ways, poetry and math are similar: Many of my students have a tendency to fear it because they think there are too many rules (or formulas) that they will have to follow and that it will be too hard.

Teaching poetry (and math) can be so joyful once you find joy in it and find ways to give students a positive experience with it. With each of these topics, it is so important to create an opportunity for students to freely think and express their ideas–an opportunity where the stakes aren’t so high. Yesterday I posted a sound clip on my Instagram of two students sharing poems in class and today I’ll be sharing that joyful process with you!

  • Determine how you want to frame this activity for your students: Will you leave it open ended or will you provide specific guidelines? Here is the template I found online and chose to use with my 5th grade students.
  • Share a sample “Where I’m From” or “I Am” poem with students. Here’s a short animation of a poem.
  • Notice different topics the author chose to write about and questions your students might want to ask the author to elaborate on.
  • Share another sample poem with your students (write one of your own or you can use one of these examples). Ask students how this poem is similar and different to the previous one. How are these poems similar or different to one they would write? Why? 
  • Guide students through the brainstorming process. I chose to do a quick web for them to get ideas flowing. I would prompt students to add some words that describe their home, a toy that was once important to them, the names of important people in their lives, etc. I just say the different prompts for each blank they would have to fill in later on. I tell them they can write anything that comes to mind–there are no wrong answers. This is also a great chance to front load some of the vocabulary they will see on the template.
  • Give students time to continue to reflect and write their poems!
  • Edit! Because there are two fifth grade classes, my students were paired with a student from another class. They shared their poems with each other and made changes they felt would improve the quality of their poem.
  • Model what two-voice poetry sounds like! The other fifth grade teacher and I brought our classes together and read our poems aloud in the 2-voice style: She read a line from hers followed by me reading a line from mine. Here’s more on two-voice poetry.
  • Provide your students an opportunity to share their voices TOGETHER! Flipgrid can be a great way to incorporate technology or you can do some good old fashion presentations in front of the class!
  • Reflect, reflect, reflect. Emphasize important themes of the value of differences, what makes us unique, and how there is more to each of us than meets the eye.

There is no right or wrong way to do this as long as you have created a safe and inclusive environment where students will be respectful to one another. It can also be helpful to let students know in advance that they should write things they would feel comfortable sharing with others (or give them a chance to make changes).

Other ways to incorporate this in your class could be from the perspective of a character from a book, a scientist, mathematician, or important person in history, etc! 

Hope you find this activity to be empowering for you and your students! Share your experiences in the comments below!

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